National Post (Latest Edition)
Tories defend going at Trudeau over U.S. tariffs
O’Toole says offers to help were spurned
OTTAWA • From Jason Kenney to Brad Wall, Scott Moe to James Moore, many of Canada’s most prominent conservative politicians and ex-politicians voiced public support of Justin Trudeau Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump slapped Canada, Mexico and the European Union with new steel and aluminum tariffs. There was some consensus, it seemed, that this was a moment for Canadians to show a united front. Members of the federal Conservative Party, however, opted for a different approach.
In a statement Thursday afternoon Conservative leader Andrew Scheer blamed Trudeau for not winning Canada an exemption from the tariffs, saying “it’s clear that the prime minister has failed.”
In question period in the House of Commons, meanwhile, Scheer’s foreign affairs critic, Erin O’Toole, went on the attack as well, accusing the Liberals of offering platitudes but doing “nothing” to prevent the tariffs. “My colleague across the way should know better,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau shot back. “This is not the time to be partisan.”
On Friday Conservative House leader Candice Bergen softened the message slightly, saying the Liberal government’s retaliatory measures are “appropriate,” though not enough to solve the impasse.
But O’Toole remained committed to the harsher line of attack. “We’re getting criticized for calling this a failure. When the prime minister went on the tour of the steel town communities, they were declaring that exemption (from tariffs) temporarily as a victory. That was not a prudent course of action,” he told the National Post in an interview Friday.
O’Toole explained that the official opposition was getting frustrated because Liberals had “specifically excluded” his party from the government’s efforts south of the border.
“We’ve provided direct willingness to go down to Washington as a united front. The Liberals have taken up none of it,” he said.
Wall, the former premier of Saskatchewan, had tweeted that he strongly supported the government’s “swift response.” “Moments such as this call for Cdn resolve,” he said. The province’s still-new premier, Scott Moe — who has so far shown every indication of picking up where Wall left off as a thorn in Trudeau’s side on issues like carbon pricing — was supportive too. Jason Kenney, the leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta and another keen Trudeau critic, used almost the same language as Wall to express his solidarity with the government. Moore, a former federal minister currently consulting in Vancouver, posted on Twitter that it was time for political unity. “Country first,” he said. “The actions announced today ... are measured and appropriate.”
Liberal MPs took notice, citing those reactions in their responses to Conservative questions Friday. “I suspect this will be a full Team Canada full court press,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters.
Nonetheless O’Toole expressed his disappointment that “Team Canada” has, in his view, only meant members of the Liberal government. “Team Canada needs to leverage the strength of Team Canada, and it’s frustrating for me. And you know, James Moore and Brad Wall ... and all these people aren’t as close to it as we are, and haven’t been trying to basically be bipartisan on this.
“For (the Liberals) Team Canada means, ‘OK, we’re now in a crisis. You applaud whatever we decide to do even though we’ve been ignoring your advice for eight months,’” he said. It took three months for him to get a background briefing with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office on NAFTA negotiations, he said.
O’Toole said Scheer has requested a sit-down with the Liberals so that they can leverage the opposite bench’s expertise, such as that of former trade minister Ed Fast. He said he has been calling his own contacts in the U.S. Senate.
Because the U.S. is justifying tariffs by saying they are being levied for “national security” reasons, O’Toole said, the government should have been emphasizing from the beginning how closely Canada works with the U.S. on security, defence and NORAD, instead of focusing on issues such as progressive new elements in NAFTA.
“I know the PMO has convinced everyone that the charm offensive has been so effective. We’ve done a lot of work and I praise that. But we haven’t been strategic on what we’re talking about, what parts of the relationship we’re highlighting,” he said. “I loved the prime minister’s language yesterday but I would have liked to see that last October.”